Patients

danversstatehospital

Mr. Wren sat in a chair by the cold window. The sun was out and doing all it could to warm the December day, but the Earth tilted away. The man flicked at dead flies on the window sill. He could not stomach another one. He had had his fill. There came a rap at the locked door – locked from the outside, to be sure.

‘Come in,’ Mr. Wren called, and laughed.

He heard someone fidgeting with the lock, and soon the door opened. In walked a woman dressed in an overcoat and a fine skirt and blouse. Her hair was styled up with bobby pins, her skin was clear. She presented a stern face, almost a scowl. She was authority. Mr. Wren did not care much for people of authority. He could flatly do without this newcomer. He turned back to the dead flies.

‘How are you this afternoon?’ she asked.

Mr. Wren poked at the still insects. He did not look up. ‘Are you a doctor?’

The woman said nothing for a moment. Then, she closed the door, removed her overcoat, draping it across a chair, and answered, ‘Yes. I am a doctor . . . Mister . . ?’

‘Wren,’ he replied. ‘You don’t know me?’

The doctor took a seat on his bed. She smiled, warmly, and adjusted some of the pins in her hair. ‘Well, yes, of course I already know you, Mr. Wren. I was simply trying to be cordial.’

Mr. Wren glanced at her. ‘Did you like that, Doctor? When I said you could come in? As if I had a choice in the matter . . . ‘ He chuckled to himself. ‘What would you do if I requested that you do not come in?’

She considered the question. ‘You do not have a choice in the matter. You’re right,’ she said. ‘I would come in, regardless.’

Mr. Wren, once again, turned back to the dead flies. ‘More prisoner than patient I am.’

The doctor shook her head. ‘You are a patient, Mr. Wren. Just a patient,’ she told him. ‘You are no more a prisoner than I.’

‘Are you a prisoner?’ asked Mr. Wren.

‘I don’t feel like one,’ she responded.

‘You should probably feel deeper. . . You’ll find the chains around your limbs the deeper you search. Maybe they’re around your heart. How has your heart felt these days, Doc?’

The doctor sighed. ‘My heart? You sound like a romance novel.’ She laughed.

Silence between them. Then wind shook the window.

‘Are you my new doctor?’ Mr. Wren asked.

She nodded.

‘I hope you’re better than the last,’ he snorted. ‘And the ones before that. I’ve had five doctors this year alone!’

The doctor waited for him to go on.

‘They were all bad doctors,’ explained Mr. Wren. ‘The last one, Dr. Welles, he was no good for me. Made me remember the bad things.’ He lifted a dead fly, and threw it to the floor. ‘He made me eat these!’ Mr. Wren wretched. ‘What an awful doctor he is! Making me remember all the bad things. And I don’t want to remember the bad things at all!’ Mr. Wren let out a weak howl. ‘And he made me eat the flies . . . ‘

‘He made you eat them?’ said the doctor, which was not as much an inquiry, as it was a way to keep him on this peculiar point.

The patient raised another dead fly, holding it below his nose. He sniffed. ‘What’s your name?’

She pondered, watching him smell the insect. Finally, she answered: ‘Dr. Apple.’

Mr. Wren grinned. ‘Apple.’

She nodded. ‘Yes. But I’m curious about what you said. Dr. Welles made you eat the flies.’

The grin vanished from Mr. Wren’s face.

‘Could you elaborate on what you mean by that?’ Dr. Apple asked.

At the thought of his last doctor, the man bared his teeth. ‘I told you. He was an idiot. Most doctors are. Most people are. He made me remember all the bad things. And it was only natural that he made me eat the flies.’

‘Okay,’ said the doctor, her mind working, forming her next approach. ‘And what about the doctor before Dr. Welles?’

Mr. Wren was shaking his head. ‘No . . . No, she was just as bad. Dr. Mina. Just the same. More of the same. She wanted me to think about the bad things. And then again with the flies. She made me eat the flies!’ He slammed his fist against the window. ‘Why is it so damn cold out? You have obviously been outside today. How cold is it?’

Dr. Apple swallowed. ‘I’m not sure. Cold. But I hope this coat I have is enough.’ She smiled, again.

‘What is the use of the sun if it cannot even do a simple task – its only task!’ Mr. Wren laughed softly, and picked up a dead fly. He popped it into his mouth. He did not chew.

The doctor was sickened. She did not show it. ‘So, you just swallow the flies, then?’

Mr. Wren’s lip trembled. ‘What is it with you doctors, and force feeding me flies? Pray tell me, Dr. Apple. You doctors are sicker than anyone in this place.’

Her fingers interlaced. ‘It sounds like you believe that I just made you eat that fly. Am I correct?’

‘No,’ he huffed, rolling his eyes. ‘I want to eat flies.’ Mr. Wren paused and studied the doctor sitting on his bed. How could she be so stupid? he thought. How could she ask such a stupid question?  

Dr. Apple leaned forward. ‘Sarcasm. Very good, Mr. Wren.’ The thin mattress squeaked beneath her. ‘But I should wonder, how do they taste?’

Another stupid question, thought Mr. Wren. ‘The flies?’

‘The flies.’ She stared at him, blankly.

The man shrugged. ‘Fine, I suppose,’ he replied. Mr. Wren was a shadow framed in the window. The useless sun shone light all around him.

The doctor tapped her chin. Then she stood, and took her coat from the chair. She held it over her arms. ‘Have you ever considered, Mr. Wren, that you are eating these flies of your own volition?’ Dr. Apple posited.

Mr. Wren guffawed. ‘Come now!’

‘You yourself just told me they taste fine.’

He threw his hands in the air. ‘Well, they do! I am not going to lie to you! I am not crazy!’ And he pointed his finger at the doctor. ‘You,’ Mr. Wren hissed. ‘You think I am crazy. You think I belong here.’

Dr. Apple turned to leave. ‘I think you have a taste for flies, Mr. Wren. I think you’re one of a kind.’

‘I want a new doctor,’ he said as she closed the door. The locked clicked. He shouted. ‘I want a new doctor!’

It was quiet again.

Mr. Wren ate three dead flies.

He watched the sun arc across the sky. From here, he could just see the top of Boston’s skyline over the horizon. When was the last time he had walked the city streets? Mr. Wren could not recall. And that filled him with despair. He ate a dead fly. Later, he would request a new room, one facing northward. Mr. Wren heard you could see the peaks of the White Mountains from the rooms across the hall. New Hampshire was a green and golden land, and there, too, he missed very much.

The door’s lock turned, and in peeked an orderly named Robert. A charming young man; he smiled. ‘Time to go to the rec room, Mr. Wren.’

Mr. Wren tagged onto the line of other patients following Robert through the corridors, down to the rec room. There were games there: dominoes, cards, backgammon, mahjong. A television was tuned to the football game. A radio in the corner was broadcasting the local news of the day.

Mr. Wren found a chair, and joined some other men watching the football game.

‘How’s it goin, Wren?’ mumbled a burly man to his right.

‘Just another day,’ he replied. ‘I have a new doctor.’

The burly man laughed deeply. ‘How many’s that for ya now? Nine? Ten? There’s not gonna be a doctor left here for ya.’ He laughed way down in his gut, once more, and slapped Mr. Wren’s shoulder.

Mr. Wren recoiled from the burly man’s touch. He said, ‘Yes . . . well . . . I think I may actually be able to stomach her, even though she did leave me rather disturbed after her visit.’

‘How’s she look?’ the burly man muttered. ‘She look good? Huh? Good enough to eat?’ He snickered, elbowing Mr. Wren in the arm.

Again, Mr. Wren recoiled. ‘She looked tired.’

The burly man groaned at the television. ‘Ah, come on. Watch this bullshit. Right there and he misses the god damn field goal. What a bum.’ He looked back at Mr. Wren. ‘Who was it?’

‘Who was who?’

‘The doctor, ya dumb shit.’

‘Oh. I think she is new. Dr. Apple. I had never seen her before today.’

Do you have a bug problem?‘ the commercial on the television buzzed. ‘It’s that time of year, again, when the cold moves in, and so do the bugs!

The burly man nodded. ‘Probably brought her in just for you, Wren,’ he laughed. ‘Don’t scare this one away.’

Mr. Wren watched the exterminator on the commercial fight comically over-sized insects. ‘It’s never my fault,’ he said, but the burly man did not hear him. He was looking across the room, where the radio was.

‘You meet the new girl over there?’ the burly man asked. ‘Beautiful. That’s always the way, huh? Beautiful and insane.’ He chortled.

Mr. Wren looked to the radio, and to the woman who sat alone at the table listening to it. She wore an overcoat and a fine skirt and blouse. Her hair was styled up with bobby pins, and her skin was clear. She looked tired.

Mr. Wren leapt to his feet. He startled the burly man, and took off, searching for an orderly. He found Robert leaning out a window, smoking a cigarette.

‘Robert,’ he whispered harshly, not wanting to attract attention, but attracting some.

The orderly stubbed out the cigarette, and closed the window, turning to Mr. Wren. He could see the urgency on his face. ‘What’s wrong?’ he asked.

‘That woman over there in the overcoat,’ said Mr. Wren, pointing over his shoulder. ‘Is she a doctor here?’

Robert glanced beyond Mr. Wren. ‘Where?’

Mr. Wren looked back, and the seat she had been in was vacant. He spun his head one way, then the other. He did not see the woman anywhere. Mr. Wren’s vision was spinning, twisting.

Forcefully, Robert thrust Mr. Wren aside. The young orderly rushed over to an open doorway near the radio. ‘Did I leave this door open?’ he asked the room full of patients. His voice cracked. ‘Shit, shit, shit,’ he cursed himself. ‘This is bad, oh boy, oh boy, this is very, very bad.’ Robert gazed at the room, and asked, again, ‘Did I leave this door open?’

‘Nah,’ the burly man answered without taking his eyes from the football game.

‘You closed it, oh yeah, you closed it, Rob,’ said a jittery man playing mahjong. ‘You’re the best, Rob, always responsible.’

‘Shit, shit, shit.’ The orderly examined the door, moving it on its hinges. It did not appear tampered with.

Sweat dripped from his forehead. He touched the doorknob. Something poked his hand.

Mr. Wren approached. He watched Robert pull a bobby pin from the lock.

‘What in the world?’ the young man whispered, holding up the pin.

‘No,’ Mr. Wren mumbled. ‘That can’t be.’ He coughed then, violently, and beat his fist against his chest. Something wiggled in his throat. He coughed, once more, and spit on the linoleum.

A maggot squirmed at his feet . . .

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